Dixie Darr

In Learning, Learning Tools, presentations, work on March 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm

The University vs. The Universe

The university has always been a poor substitute for the universe as a learning resource.

The world’s first universities were established in the 5th century CE in various places including Constantinople, Egypt, India, China, and Persia. The University of Pennsylvania, the first university in the U.S., was founded hundreds of years later in 1740 by none other than Benjamin Franklin. They performed adequately, if not always admirably, through the industrial age. These days they aren’t doing such a good job.

As John Naisbitt pointed out twenty plus years ago in his groundbreaking research on Megatrends, “Things are changing too fast for people to specialize their education.” Therefore, the most important skill to master is learning how to learn. “Tasks are going to change, careers are going to change. If you know how to learn, you can continue to grow. If you don’t you’re going to be handicapped.”

Now that the Internet brings the universe into our homes, if we know how to learn, we no longer need huge bureaucracies to standardize learning for us. Three sites allow all of us to listen to lectures covering just about any topic we’d like to learn.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public for free.

Academic Earth is an organization founded with the goal of giving everyone on earth access to a world-class education.

This non-profit is “working to identify these barriers and find innovative ways to use technology to increase the ease of learning.” It vows to give internet users around the world the ability to easily find, interact with, and learn from full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars.

Launched less than two years ago, Apple’s iTunes university offers college lectures on everything from Proust to particle physics to students and the public. Some universities make their lectures available to all, while others restrict access to enrolled students. New psychological research suggests that university students who download a podcast lecture achieve substantially higher exam results than those who attend the lecture in person.

Podcasted lectures offer students the chance to replay difficult parts of a lecture and therefore take better notes, says Dani McKinney, a psychologist at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who led the study.

As the iTunes website, explains, learning no longer happens only at a desk. Students now expect constant access to information, no matter where they are, which is exactly why more and more faculty are using iTunes U to distribute digital lessons to their students.

The next time you have an immediate need to learn something, check out these sites and learn from the best.

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